The Yale field hockey team has a chance this weekend to accomplish a feat that only nationally-ranked programs have accomplished: beat No. 16 Harvard or Liberty. The Bulldogs will host rival Harvard on Saturday in their Ivy League opener and then turn around 24 hours later to face Liberty on Sunday.

In past years, Yale’s chances against nationally ranked and reigning Ivy champion Harvard would have been nominal. The Bulldogs (3–2–0, 0–0–0 Ivy) have not beat the Crimson (4–2–0, 0–0–0) since 2012. But according to captain Kiwi Comizio ’18, the 2017 team is playing the best she has seen in her time in New Haven. With a high-powered offense and a rapidly improving defense, Yale may finally break its losing streak against Harvard and notch a victory against Liberty (3–3–0, 1–0–0 Big East) to stay about 0.500 in out-of-conference play.

“Conference games always have a different feel to them,” midfielder Carol Middough ’18 said. “There is more pressure riding on the outcome of the game, which definitely elevates the play, but we will continue to try to use our strengths to our advantage just as we have the past couple of games.”

Last Friday, the Bulldogs shot 27 times en route to a 2–0 shutout win over Central Michigan, setting a new high for shot output in a single game by any Ivy school this season. The victory over the Chippewas was marred, however, by a loss to Michigan State 4–0 on Sunday, a noticeable step backward for the improving defense.

The Spartans launched 26 shots in last Sunday’s contest. Despite allowing four goals, goalie Sydney Terroso ’21 made 10 saves total that afternoon, bringing her to 15 stops on the weekend. Defensively, Yale has marked up better in front of its net, blocking more shots in recent games.

Striking first will be key for the Bulldogs this weekend: The team that has scored the first goal has won each of Yale’s first five games. Slow starts have doomed the Elis in both losses, and Yale has struggled to mount a serious comeback attempt in either defeat.

Although it is still early in the season, this weekend’s game will be the only meeting of the ancient rivals for the season. The Blue enter the game as underdogs, while the Crimson went undefeated in the Ivy League last season, notching a 2–0 victory over the Bulldogs, to make its fifth NCAA tournament appearance.

Harvard’s team is young and deep, with four seniors and seven rookies. Although the team graduated eight seniors last year, the depth of the returning players has translated to only two losses thus far, one to Connecticut, then–No. 2, and another, 2–1 in overtime, to then–No. 13 Stanford.

Harvard first-year Mimi Tarrant was just named Ivy League Rookie of the Week and has scored four goals this season, placing her in a three-way tie to lead the Crimson in goals. Also at four goals are sophomores Maddie Earle and 2016 Ivy League Rookie of the Year Bente van Vlijmen. Harvard head coach Tjerk van Herwaarden, in his sixth season at the helm  highlighted not a specific player but rather the depth of the team as both an immediate and longer-term strength. He noted that Harvard’s first three games of the season were played in California, in weather often upwards of 100°F, and the Crimson had to rely on the team’s capacity to make substitutions while not sacrificing level of play.

“The really key piece of what has allowed us to be successful is that we have different people stand up at different moments,” said van Herwaarden. “I find it very difficult to pinpoint one person that is a key player for us, because we have a couple of very solid and good athletes and if one is not able to find the goal on a given day, thankfully, we have another one who will.”

Liberty, Yale’s Sunday opponent, also travels to New Haven with its only losses coming to ranked opponents. The Lady Flames have dropped games to then–No. 6 Delaware, then–No. 11 Michigan and then–No. 19 James Madison. Liberty visits Quinnipiac on Friday afternoon before making the trip down from Hamden to square off with the Bulldogs.

The Lady Flames bring a potent offense to Johnson Field, scoring at least two goals in each of their last four games. Midfielder Agueda Moroni will provide a formidable test for the emerging Eli defense. Moroni ranks fourth in the nation in goals per game, having scored 1.2 per contest through six matches.

Yale and Harvard will face off at 1 p.m., while Sunday’s contest against Liberty will begin at 2 p.m.

Contact Matthew Mister at matthew.mister@yale.edu and Angela Xiao at angela.xiao@yale.edu .